Strategically writing

Strategic Reading has been quiet for the last eight months. There was no particular reason why it stopped, and there is now no particular reason why it is starting again – but starting again it is, continuing much as it did when it left off. The one difference is that a very large backlog has built up of things flagged for inclusion during the hiatus, so for a while there may be a slightly more retrospective feel as some of the pieces which still seem fresh and pertinent get added to the mix of largely more current things.


Warning: Graphic Content

Gavin Freeguard – Warning: Graphic Content

Link blogs come in two different flavours: more links and less commentary or fewer links and more commentary. Strategic Reading is an example of the second kind; Warning: Graphic Content of the first.

And of that first kind, it is impresssively – almost dauntingly thorough – a weekly post which starts with the intersection of data visualisation and government and expands rapidly from there. You won’t want to click on every link, but if you like Strategic Reading you’ll want to click on more of them than you can find the time for.

The only downside is that it’s hosted on Tumblr, which in turn uses Oath, which runs a particularly obfuscatory approach to personal data consent, so approach with proper caution.

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Government as a Platform

Richard Pope posted a series of tweets linking to all the outputs from his time as a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. It’s some of the most sustained thinking and writing on digital government by somebody deeply involved in doing it there is, so since tweets sit at the curious intersection of the ephemeral and the permanent, it seemed worth bringing it all together. What follow are lightly edited versions of those tweets.

Government as a Platform Playbook

In part based on interviews with people from digital service groups around the world. Aims to provides teams building platforms in government with actionable guidance.

Government as a Platform – the hard problems

These are mostly bigger political/policy questions that need political capital to resolve.

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – The design of services & public policy

Part 3 – Shared components, APIs and the machinery of government

Part 4 – Data infrastructure and registers

Part 5 – Identity and trust

Curated lists

1. Cross-government registers, shared components and open APIs

2. Design systems and standards

3. Service standards and other technical standards (and a short article explaining the rationale)


Government as a platform reading list and various other resources

Stand-alone articles and blog posts:

The case for a design archive for digital services

The narrative around “data-sharing” in government needs resetting

Street lighting in suburban London: a parable for digital government

Digital service standards and platforms

Digital proofs

Real-time government

Platforms for government? Platforms for society?

Interview with Will Myddelton – UK Government as a Platform programme

Making public policy in the digital age

A working definition of Government as a Platform

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How to write a blog post

Jenny Vass

There are bloggers who are human beings. There are bloggers who are civil servants. It seems to come as a surprise to some people that there are bloggers who are both. Jenny Vass is simultaneously a shining example of how to operate at that intersection and a clear-sighted guide to others who might want to do the same. These are her top ten tips for government bloggers, which add up to a good starting point for anybody. I would only add an eleventh, taken from George Orwell, one of the great bloggers avant la lettre:

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

It’s also good to see the post opening with an attempt to sustain the heavily threatened distinction between blog and blog post, on which Meg Pickard’s advice remains essential.

This is one of four posts related by content and timing – the others are by Janet Hughes. Lauren Currie. and Steph Gray. All four are well worth reading, with value to experienced bloggers as well as those new to blogging.

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Where to start if you want to start blogging

Janet Hughes

Where to start? Well, here is no bad place, with pointers both to advice on blogging and to a wide range of individual and organisational public sector blogs. The heyday of the blogroll as a means by which one blog could signal the value of others is long past but this is a really useful freestanding equivalent It’s a perennial struggle to know where the good stuff is as blogs and their bloggers appear and fade, so having a well-informed overview of the landscape is especially helpful.

This is one of four posts related by content and timing – the others are by Jenny Vass , Lauren Currie and Steph Gray. All three are well worth reading, with value to experienced bloggers as well as those new to blogging.

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How to start writing online

Lauren Currie – Redjotter

This is a post about blogging from a different perspective. Lauren Currie has long been a leader in giving voice to others, this post gives four ways of making the transition to a more public voice an easier one

This is one of four posts related by content and timing – the others are by Jenny Vass, Janet Hughes and Steph Gray. All four are well worth reading, with value to experienced bloggers as well as those new to blogging.

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Blogging as thinking

Steph Gray – Postbureaucrat

There is much good advice to be had about how to blog, with excellent examples in the companion posts to this one. The related question of why blog tends to get less attention – or at least, the attention it gets tends to emphasise one set of reasons at the expense of another. Working in the open and being generous in sharing ideas and experience are all excellent things to do, but they are not the only value or necessarily the primary motivation.

This post sets out a different approach, to blogging as thinking, where the value is to the writer, with value to an audience a welcome bonus rather than a driving motivation. The delightful paradox is that very often that approach turns out to be the most powerful and resonant, with the greatest value to readers of all.

This is one of four posts related by content and timing – the others are by Jenny Vass, Janet Hughes and Lauren Currie. All four are well worth reading, with value to experienced bloggers as well as those new to blogging.

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Toolkit Navigator

OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation

This rather mundane title is the gateway to a rich set of resources – a compendium of tools for public sector innovation and transformation, as the site’s subtitle has it. It’s a library organised by topics and actions, as well as supporting connections between people working on public sector innovation round the world. It’s very richness has the potential to be a bit overwhelming, so it’s well worth starting with a very clear blog post by Angela Hanson which introduces the approach OECD has taken.

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The Ultimate Guide to Making Smart Decisions

Shane Parrish – Farnam Street

Who could not want not just any guide to making smart decisions, but the ultimate guide? That’s a big promise, but there is some substance to what is delivered. The post itself briskly covers categories of bad decisions before moving on to extensive sets of links to material on thinking in general and decision making in particular. I can’t imagined anyone wanting to work through all of that systematically, but if you need a way of homing in on an aspect of or approach to the subject, this could be a very good place to start.


Please do not adjust your set

It’s been three weeks since Strategic Reading was last updated and the last weekly summary sent out to email subscribers. If you had noticed the void in your reading life, apologies. As is well known, strategists are not always as gifted in predicting the future as they like to think, but the intention is now for normal service to be resumed.


Digital Digest

Dave Briggs – Digital Digest

Dave Briggs is starting a new weekly newsletter. It’s a pretty safe bet that if you like this, you’ll like that.


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Understanding Algorithms

Tim Harford

Tim Harford recommends some books about algorithms. There’s not much more to be said than that – except perhaps to follow up on one of the implications of Prediction Machines, the book which is the main focus of the post.

One way of looking at artificial intelligence is as a tool for making predictions. Good predictions reduce uncertainty. Really good predictions may change the nature of a problem altogether. In a different sense, the purpose of strategy can also be seen as a way of reducing uncertainty: by making some choices (or bets), other choices drop out of the problem space. Putting those two thoughts together suggests that better AI may be a tool to support better strategies.

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Governance as a service: a reading list

Richard McLean – Medium

While we are on the subject, this is a really useful compendium of reading on governance. Some of it is general, but much of it, one or another, is about how fast moving projects meet slow moving organisations, and how to dissipate the heat from the friction which results.

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Landscape of innovation approaches

Bas Leurs – NESTA

If you had to write down a list of innovation methods and techniques, how many could you come up with? However long your list, it’s a fair bit that it won’t have as much on it as this landscape of innovation approaches (also available as a more legible PDF to cut out and keep).

Methods are grouped into four overlapping ‘spaces’. There’s room for debate about what best fits where and there is a broad range from mainstream to eclectic – but that in itself is a good start in challenging assumptions about methods which appear natural and obvious and indeed about the kind of innovation being sought.

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Innovation Toolkits


How many design innovation toolkits are there? The answer seems to be that there are more than you might think possible. Over a hundred are brought together on this page, which makes it an extraordinarily rich collection. There are lots of interesting-looking things here, some well known, others more obscure – though it’s hard not to come away with the thought that the world’s need for innovation toolkits has now over abundantly been met.


Starting the ‘Reading List’

Dave Briggs

Dave reads and reflects and shares both the reading and the reflections, on topics which are often closely linked to themes covered here. He has just announced a slightly different approach to sharing the material he finds, including a dedicated category on his blog (which comes with a selective RSS feed). Well worth following – though there is no obvious reason to filter out his own posts, which are always worth reading in their own right.

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204 examples of artificial intelligence in action

Chris Yiu

This is a page of links which provides over two hundred examples of artificial intelligence in action – ranging from mowing the lawn, through managing hedge funds and sorting cucumbers all the way to writing AI software. Without clicking a single one of the links, it provides a powerful visual indicator of how pervasive AI has already become. There is inevitably a bit of a sense of never mind the quality, feel the width – but the width is itself impressive, and the quality is often racing up as well.

There is a linked twitter account which retweets AI-related material – though in a pleasing inversion, it shows every sign of being human-curated.


Essential reading: my top three email newsletters

Including this link is slightly indulgently self-referential, for reasons which will be apparent to anybody who reads the last fifth of this article – but there is value in the first four fifths regardless of that. More generally, aggregators of good things from across the web are to be welcomed, and others will get mentioned here from time to time. As Benedict Evans once put it, “All curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation.” This is where curation is celebrated.

Andrew Besford